MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell lost an appeal against his conviction for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choir boys and will remain in prison for at least another three years, an Australian court ruled on Wednesday.
Pell, the highest ranking Catholic worldwide to be convicted of child sex offences, was sentenced in March to six years in jail after being found guilty on five charges of abusing the two boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s.
Supreme Court of Victoria Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said on Wednesday that two of the three judges hearing Pell’s appeal “decided that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Cardinal Pell was guilty of the offences charged” and rejected his appeal.
The jury in the trial heard testimony from a victim who described how Pell had exposed himself to the two boys, fondled their genitals and masturbated and forced one boy to perform a sex act on him. The other victim died in 2014.
“I am grateful for a legal system that everyone can believe in, where everybody is equal before the law and no one is above the law,” the surviving choir boy, now in his 30s, said in a statement read out by his lawyer, Vivian Waller.
“The criminal process has been stressful. The journey has taken me to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from,” he said in the statement.
Under the terms of his sentencing, Pell will be eligible for parole in October 2022, when he will be 81.
“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” his spokeswoman, Katrina Lee, said in a statement, adding that he maintained his innocence.
She said his legal team was examining the judgement to determine whether to lodge a special leave application to the High Court of Australia to hear an appeal. Pell has 28 days to file the application.
There was no immediate comment from the Vatican.
Pell appealed his conviction on three grounds, but mainly that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable based on the evidence at the trial.